Challenging Behaviours

Sometimes our children can really test our patience.

Do you ever find yourself completely at a loss, with no idea how to respond to your child’s behaviours?

You’ve worked out that systems of punishment, time-outs and rewards are rarely, if ever, successful, but what else is there?

Responding Rather than Reacting

Best results can be achieved when we learn how to respond rather than react to the behaviours that challenge our sense of calm. Rather than “attention seeking”, as is often thought, your children are usually seeking connection. Their behaviours are telling you that they need your help to understand some really big feelings.

They are not bad kids, but are simply responding to some big feelings that they don’t understand, and do not yet have the words to express. Our reactions to their behaviours are often a result of our own upbringing, which creates our ” shark music”. Our bodies are wired to react to a perceived threat, based on past experiences.

Possible Scenario

Please note: this is not meant to resemble anyone in particular, and is simply a possible scenario to illustrate the concept.

Angela picks up her 5 year old daughter, Sally after school. During the day Sally’s stress levels had built up, and they discharged as they drove home. She did this by angrily yelling and kicking the back of Angela’s car seat.

Angela, now also angry, reacted by saying “If you don’t stop, you can get out and walk home”.

Sally was five, and they were seven kilometres from home.

As Angela’s thinking brain came back online, she wondered why she had said something that sounded so ridiculous. It was as though her mouth had opened before her brain had time to work out what was happening.

Understanding the Behaviour

Does any of this sound familiar to you?

The stress of her daughter’s behaviour had caused Angela’s “shark music” to surface automatically. Angela’s parents had been easily stressed people. Her mother was anxious during the pregnancy, and Angela’s dad had an explosive temper.

As a result she learnt to fear anger. Her body’s immediate response was to shut out the frightening sound of his voice. Later, as a parent, when Sally became angry or frustrated, Angela automatically shut herself off from the experience, finding it difficult to be with her child’s angry outbursts.

Family History

These stresses from her own childhood, and her inherited family history, added to Angela’s own stressful pregnancy. As a result it is no wonder that Sally was born highly sensitive. Her nervous system, moulded during her time in utero, was wired to expect a hostile world. This meant she was easily overwhelmed by experiences perceived as stressful.

Adapting to the school environment can be highly stressful for a sensitive child, and while your child may appear to be coping, often the stress response is just being suppressed. During the day at school, Sally’s stress levels had built up to the point that she simply couldn’t hold it in any longer… and out it came, angrily kicking the back of her mother’s seat in the car.

Small Events Become Big Explosions

Stress reactions can happen even when your child is at home during the day. Seemingly small events can build up, and peak in the evening, when everyone is feeling a bit tired, and in the least possible space to respond calmly and coherently. These are those occasions when the most seemingly minor incidents can set off a major behavioural explosion. Feeling already stressed after a big day yourself, it is easy to react without thinking.

Remember, you are not a “bad” parent, and this is not a “bad” child. As parents, we can only ever do our best. Your nervous systems are both simply reacting to something that is perceived to be threatening. As the above scenario illustrates, the impact of parental anger can pass through generations, and our “shark music” I can be easily triggered.

Changing the Narrative

Seeing a therapist can help you to identify when those feelings of “shark music” are starting to surface. You will learn how to acknowledge, reflect and discharge them safely, responding rather than reacting to a stressful situation.

Reaching Out

If any of this sounds familiar to you, and you would like some help in identifying your own behavioural triggers, why not call me on 0474 095 432, and we can discuss how to best help you and your child?

Of course, if you ever feel that either you, or anyone else, are at risk of harming your child in any way, it is vital that you seek help.

NDIS Participants

If you are self or plan managed,

Years of Experience

Rosalind is a PACFA accredited Holistic Counsellor and Psychotherapist and long-term resident of Moruya, on the south coast of New South Wales. An empathic and compassionate listener she will respect your need for safety, trust and confidentiality in the therapeutic relationship.

Rosalind brings to therapy the depth of understanding that comes from lived experience.